We’ve all heard stories about how India was known as the golden sparrow in the good old days. A lot of the prosperity that led to that moniker is based on the prosperity in terms of agriculture. We were, after all, very prominently, an agrarian economy. What the organic living trend of today ignores is the fact that the original ‘organic living’ was originally our fiefdom. In fact, we can go all the way back to the time when the concept of India did not exist in order to examine India’s history with organic living.
The Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization is often credited with developing farming tools like ploughs and artificial irrigation systems. Their systems were successful enough to make them sustain themselves on wheat, barley, pulses, peas, rice and some oil seeds while also rearing cattle. Considering the time period, we can be sure that there were no synthetic materials even created yet to make it into the farming practices.
Whether or not you believe in the Aryan migration theory, historians agree that during the Vedic period, iron tools were used to settle on the fertile Gangetic plains for an agricultural way of life. With settled life and better equipment came a rich legacy of ancient knowledge about agricultural practices, geography, mathematics and even planetary movements which, thanks to the emergence of painstaking recordkeeping, was passed on from one generation to the next. The resultant knowledge led to surplus production in the agricultural field which supported the success of the centralized kingdoms that were emerging by the Later Vedic Age.
The Various Kingdoms
It becomes difficult to track a common ancestry of the Indian people once the various smaller kingdoms diverged, but the agricultural history of the country remained. No matter which Indian kingdom you examine, the primary basis of all economics remains agriculture. All dynasties depended on farming to provide economic stability apart from actually sustaining the needs of the citizens. As a result, they all promoted better farming practices like crop rotation to maintain the soil nutrition, multiple crop cycles in a year to increase yield and planting complementary crops together for nutrition sharing and farming in small spaces. But in all these practices, it was still the ancestral knowledge of natural pesticides and fertilizers that helped the farmer.
The British colonizers introduced India to plantation agriculture where the focus of farmers was forced away from self-sufficient food crops to cash crops like indigo, jute, tea and tobacco. This wads to make India the supplier of raw materials to Britain as well as importer of British manufactured finished goods. The dependent agricultural practices introduced by the British led to indebted peasantry while the shift to cash crops led to famines.
The Green Revolution in the 1960s was an effort to counteract the lasting effects of the pre-independence era combined with the booming population and the inability of the Indian economy to be self-sufficient. Agriculture in India was pushed to take a more industrial route with the adoption of technology, mechanization and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. While the intentions were wholesome, nobody could have predicted the later research that proved that we were introducing carcinogenic elements into our diet with these artificial chemicals. The organic methods of farming remained restricted to small, self-sustained, family-led agricultural plots.
Return to Organic Farming
Like all things in life, agriculture has come full circle for India. We are finally seeing the value in the knowledge of our ancestors and depending more on nature and smaller but healthier yield. And today, with the value attached to organic farming, it is becoming more economically feasible for the small farmer as opposed to trying to compete with the massive yields of the genetically modified crop treated with chemical fertilizers. The farmer trying to do good for the planet and the people is now rewarded for his efforts. And Deccan is proud to be a part of this change.
Let us all encourage this return to our roots.